Health

Circus Zambia Empowers Children in Lusaka Slum To Gain Skills, Avoid Drugs

 

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Circus Zambia performers practice acrobatics before a community show in Lusaka’s Chibolya slum. Having been exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age, four Chibolya street kids formed Circus Zambia, which seeks to empower and keep young people off drugs. Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia
Zambia

Chibolya, a slum in Zambia’s capital city Lusaka, is notorious for crime and drugs. Now a troupe of youth from the neighborhood is training children in feats of discipline and daring, and Chibolya is becoming known for something new: Circus!

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — Plastic buckets of marijuana and other assorted drugs are paraded outside makeshift stalls on a street in Chibolya, a slum in this capital city. The area is notorious for crime and drugs.

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A young man prepares marijuana to smoke in Chibolya, a disadvantaged area of Lusaka.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Smoke is oozing out of the stalls as young men puff marijuana and sip Kachasu, a high-potency beer.

Others have passed out on the roadside.

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Misheck Mwale (center), pours Kachasu beer with friends in Chibolya slum.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

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Iredi Ngula brews a beer known as Kachasu in the Chibolya slum, Lusaka.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

“This is what Chibolya is known for, drugs and alcohol,” says Patrick Chikoloma, 18, who once abused drugs.

He now is a member of Circus Zambia, an organization that aims to show children in one of Lusaka’s poorest areas that they can aspire to bigger things.

“Drugs are easily accessible here, but we want to change that. We want good things to come out of this compound,” Chikoloma says.

Having been exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age, four Chibolya youths in 2014 formed Circus Zambia as a way to keep young people off drugs by empowering them with both acrobatic and academic skills.

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Circus Zambia performers practice acrobatics before a community show in Chibolya, which means “abandoned” in Nyanja and Bemba languages.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Circus Zambia founders — Gift Chansa, Benard Kaumba, Bright Kalutwa and Amos Malokwa — found themselves at Barefeet Theatre as they sought to escape the atmosphere of substance abuse in Chibolya. Barefeet is a nongovernmental organization founded in 2006 that uses play, creativity and art to empower vulnerable children and let them know they are loved and can seek a stable life.

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Circus Zambia youth train for their shows in Lusaka.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

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Tapiwa Chalila (left), Ndaba Gwaai (middle), Bright Gwaai (right), training for a Circus Zambia performance.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

There Chansa, Kaumba and Malokwa were chosen to learn circus in China for a year. Upon returning from China in 2014, the trio’s stardom in Chibolya led them along with Kalutwa to start Circus Zambia, Chansa says.

“We were stars in Chibolya when word went ‘round that we had travelled to China to learn circus. Every child wanted to be associated with us,” he says.

“We grabbed the opportunity to change our community and we formed Circus Zambia, because then it was easy to convince the children that they too could be stars, that they too could fly overseas,” Chansa says.

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Circus Zambia kids and visiting youths from the U.S., who raise funds and conduct youth exchanges with the Circus, perform at a show in Chibolya.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

The organization now has 50 children who are all from Chibolya who are training in circus as a diversion to the drugs and crimes that are prevalent in their community. About 15 more are trainers and administrators of the circus.

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Circus Zambia members along with U.S. visiting youths juggle during a performance in Chibolya, Lusaka.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

They perform in Lusaka schools and raise money by performing at corporate functions, according to Chris Hall, Circus Zambia’s head of operations. Funds raised from the corporate groups help sustain the group.

Hall says some of the team members have travelled to China and others have travelled to the US to learn circus acts and to perform. Most recently MTV Staying Alive Foundation is supporting Circus Zambia’s Clowns for Condoms campaign to raise HIV and AIDS awareness.

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Circus Zambia member Lewis Daka juggles large knives during a show in Chibolya.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Circus Zambia starts training children interested in performing at an early age and as they master various acrobatics they are moved to more difficult feats until they are ready to perform in shows, Hall says.

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Circus Zambia members along with U.S. youth exchange members perform for the community in Chibolya, Lusaka.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Chikoloma says the group together painted a wall in Chibolya. The mural depicts that Chibolya has not one but two faces: While some consider it an area for criminals, another side exists as well – one that they have the power to create since it is their home.

And Chibolya is after all becoming famous for something other than drugs and crime: It is the birthplace of Circus Zambia.

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Patrick Chikoloma, a member of Circus Zambia explains the Circus Zambia mural painted with neighborhood children in Lusaka’s Chibolya slum.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia